How has the Coronavirus pandemic affected our teachers?

It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our world beyond recognition, turning the sure and predictable on its head and leaving our future uncertain. Education in particular has felt the brunt of this, as the global lockdowns made online teaching the new norm. With this in mind, we interviewed a local secondary school teacher to discuss her experiences. 

How has the coronavirus pandemic changed the way you teach?

During the pandemic, teaching changed a lot. Now that we’re back at school, it’s almost reverted back to normal. The first covid lockdown was difficult. Being a PE teacher, I teach a practical subject, so it was quite hard setting work for everybody. I think the students found that quite difficult, because they had no structure to the day. They were given work and deadlines, but the feedback students gave us when we saw them again was that there was no structure. I think the students found the second lockdown easier, because by that time the technology was in place to do live lessons. I was able to meet my BTEC students and sixth-form students to talk through the work with them. Again, the practical was a little harder. I didn’t do live lessons for Key Stage 3 (Year 7 to Year 9), but we continued setting them work online. Since we went back to school, we’ve tried to keep as many lessons as possible outside. 

As a PE teacher, how did you set work online? 

Members of staff produced worksheets with different challenges. There would be the theory, where they would link the components of fitness with a certain sport, and then a ‘name the celebrity’ from that sport and then they would then have practical tasks that related to the sport. Then there was a ‘beat the teacher’ type challenge – it might be ‘how many star jumps can you do in two minutes?’ with a video of one of the staff doing star jumps for two minutes to compete with. 

How have you handled the increased use of technology?

Probably very badly. I’m not technologically minded – I always say there’s a reason I became a PE teacher and it’s because I’m an outdoor, practical type rather than a ‘sit down at a computer’ type. So, I struggled with the technology I had to use and it felt as though every week we were being asked to try something else with the technology. It ended up giving me mild panic attacks when I was told what we would be doing each week. Even changing from giving written feedback on Google Classroom to recording verbal messages for the students was stressful. No, I didn’t enjoy the technology at all, I found it very difficult. 

How did dealing with new challenges at work paired with a lockdown impact your mental health? 

It didn’t do my mental health any good at all. Having to sit at the computer for the vast majority of the school day was extremely difficult, as well as being unable to go outside and rack up my daily steps or do the practical that I would normally do. Yes, it would have had an impact on my mental health, definitely. 

Did you receive any backlash from students’ parents?

No, the majority of our students’ parents were absolutely lovely and very appreciative of everything we were doing. I had a Year 13 tutor group who I would ring every week to check in with. Very often I would get the parent first, as it was on the home phone, so I would have a quick chat with them. Actually, I think it did the parents good as well, because it was outside contact, and I ended up having some long conversations with the parent and then maybe a five-minute conversation with the student, instead of the other way around. It all depended on how they were doing at the time. The parents, the students – they all had a wide variety of experiences living in lockdown and you just had to do your best to support the students as they were. 

Was it difficult to support struggling students and maintain your own mental health at the same time? 

There were days where I really didn’t want to do my online tutor group, but obviously I had to do it. Once I was there though, the students would pick me up – they were supporting me as much as I was supporting them most days. It was just so nice to see a bunch of friendly faces and to have a bit of a chat together. It was a little draining some days, but it was nice to see them in Tutor Time. In Tutor Time, it wasn’t draining because they were all together, so you didn’t get involved in their problems. When I had to phone them individually, some of them were struggling badly and I would come away feeling quite drained. I think at the end, you get to the point where you just have empathy overload, where you just can’t take on anyone else’s problems anymore. 

What was it like to provide mental health support to students?

It very much depended on what routines and what situations the parents and the students were in. We gave students advice – we went through a lot of information on ‘how to improve your mental health’ and ‘how to stay positive’ and things like that. Exercise was a big one and fresh air was a big one, but unless the student is willing to step outside and go for a walk, there’s not an awful lot you can do. We all know what we should do to maintain good mental health, but when you’re in a bad place mentally, that’s the last thing you’re going to think about doing. So, it was frustrating in that you can only do so much. When students need your help and you’re unable to really help them at the end of the day, then it’s sad. 

Was the standard of work up to what it would normally be? 

With my sixth-formers, definitely not. A lot of them didn’t manage to meet their deadlines or maintain the standard of work. When we went back, we had to redo a lot of that work, because some of them struggled really badly. Some of them were trying to use a mobile phone to access all the work they needed, which is far from ideal. Some of their laptops were very, very slow, some didn’t have cameras, and some students were just in a very bad place mentally. You never know the situation they have at home – if a student doesn’t get on with parents, they’re going to struggle. It definitely had a detrimental effect on the standard of their work. 

Do you think the wealth disparity gave certain students an unfair advantage?

When I was talking with my tutor group, those who did better had more space at home. For example, people who had a garden seemed to be staying more positive than those who I know were cooped up in a flat. Whether that then transferred into their work, I couldn’t actually say, but I would imagine so, yes. 

How do you think your fellow teachers have handled the changes? 

I think the younger teachers who are more adept with technology probably did better. But again, there are staff who live in flats without gardens, so I don’t know. There is a huge variety of experiences within the staff as well as the students, so I think that’s what we need to bear in mind and just support each other through it as best we can. 

Do you think this pandemic has highlighted the need to increase the salary of teachers and their importance to society? 

I think teachers have always been important to society. The problem is, because it’s a public sector, it’s the government who pay us, not a private enterprise. So, yes, I would always think that teachers need a pay rise. If you look at what you could earn in the private sector, we are behind. But then, you look at the nurses, I think they deserve a pay rise as well, and the police. I think the pandemic has highlighted to everybody what’s actually important in life and it’s made people think about what they need to be happy. 

And finally, what’s your favourite thing about being a teacher? 

The students, without a doubt. They keep me young. The way they bounce off each other and bounce off you, and their enthusiasm – it’s infectious. I love teaching my students. 

So, to all our teachers and students out there still struggling through online lessons, good luck and may things return to normal soon!

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